Canals for Kelowna's downtown proposed as election promise
Transportation engineer says pitch to fill streets with water unrealistic, but not impossible
An interesting election promise is being floated in Kelowna, where the TaxpayersFirst slate announced it would build canals in the downtown core to boost tourism in the city.
“I think it would be great, I would love to work on a project like this. I would love to spend the rest of my career working on this for another community, not so much for Kelowna,” he said.
Here’s his breakdown of what it would take to make the canals a reality:
1. Money, money, money
Cullen says he did some quick calculations of what it would cost to turn the streets into waterways. He estimates it at more than $100-million per block.
“It would be more [expensive] than the floating bridge to do it on a cost per meter or per kilometer.”
TaxpayersFirst claims the project would be funded through a public, private, producer partnership, or P4 initiative, and wouldn’t put any additional strain on taxpayers.
Cullen is skeptical of that claim.
“P4 projects barely have the ability to fund themselves, let alone the street frontage improvements that go along with the projects,” he said.
2. Moving existing infrastructure
The pitch for streets made of water may immediately conjure up concerns for people worried about where traffic will be re-directed, but Cullen says that’s actually the easy part of the project.
“If you saw what happened with the Bernard Avenue [Revitalization], the sidewalks and the road improvements were the easy bit,” he said.
The challenge lies beneath the street, where electrical and waterlines are buried.
“You actually have to buy another right of way to put all that stuff in, then you have to dig up what you’ve got, put in the new services, and then pave over it,” he said.
Another challenge is the loss of street parking along the new waterways.
“Given that we have limited land resources downtown, every on street parking spot that would be lost would likely have to be replaced by a structure that you would have to buy the land and then build the structure,” he says.
He estimates the cost of each of those parking spots at around $30,000.
3. Filling the streets with water
Cullen describes the project as essentially the reverse of building a bridge.
“Instead of putting a bridge over water, you’re building a gap that used to be land,” he says.
“The irony is you’d have to de-water. In order to do the work, you’d have to take the water away that’s under the roads, because of the low water table, because of the proximity to the lake.”
Cullen says because the canals would be filled with water, he says retaining walls would also have to be built.
4. Time consuming proposal
Cullen says the time it would take to complete the new canals is certainly not something that could be done within a 4-year term on council.
I’m still quite young, and it would probably take me the rest of my career- Engineer Dave Cullen on how long it would take to build canals in Kelowna's downtown
“I’m still quite young, and it would probably take me the rest of my career,” he said.
5. Environmental impact
Cullen says the new canals would have to have an environmental assessment, and would likely require more protection than a road would.
“Any time you dig a hole, and it fills up with water, it should be protected, because it’s a water course in effect,” he said.
By creating new areas that would have to be protected, Cullen says a 15-meter setback would also likely be required.
“So you wouldn’t be able to go up to the edge of the new canal anyhow.”